Putin quits as head of ruling party
Moscow - President-elect Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday he would resign from his leadership post of Russia's increasingly unpopular ruling party and hand it over to his future premier Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin's departure from United Russia marks a dramatic change in fortunes for a group that had dominated the country's politics for most of his 2000-08 presidency but is now the focus of street protests and corruption complaints.
Putin had chaired United Russia while serving as Medvedev's prime minister for the past four years while never actually being a card-carrying member of the party.
The two close allies will swap jobs after the 7 May inauguration, and Putin said it would only be logical for Medvedev to take his seat at the party as well.
"We have developed a political tradition under which the president remains a non-partisan figure," news agencies quoted Putin as telling United Russia leaders.
"The constitution does not bar him from being a member of some party or other. But according to its spirit, the president is really a consolidating figure for all political forces," Putin said.
United Russia held two-thirds control of parliament and dominated most regional legislatures across the vast country for the past four years - a position that made it impervious to criticism from other parties.
The group passed Kremlin-sponsored legislation without debate and took pride in implementing Putin's vision of a centrally controlled country in which stability was favoured over political pluralism.
But voters have become increasingly disenchanted with its unelected bureaucrats who have been seen enjoying lavish lifestyles and doing little to hide their side business activities.
United Russia became known as "the party of crooks and thieves" among protesters and once even held a formal meeting aimed at deflecting such claims.
Its ability to cling to a majority in December parliamentary elections sparked street demonstrations that only abated with Putin's thumping 4 March election win.
Putin had by December already taken steps to distance himself from United Russia by forming a new coalition called the All-Russia People's Front.